A reader writes:
I am bisexual, although in a mild way. What that means is that there are very few men I am attracted to (probably less than 5% would be a good estimate — if there’s 4-5 I see in a year who visually attract me, that’s a very “bi” year) whereas I notice attractive women all the time, as in every single day. But … within that small framework, it’s undeniable — I had a crush as a kid on another boy (again, one crush as opposed to dozens on girls, but it did happen and was real and like girl crushes), and as I say very rarely I will notice someone who is male who is attractive to me in that way — it’s always notable to me because it is so uncommon. After my divorce about 15 years ago I had a long-distance relationship with a younger man for about 9 months (he didn’t have anything to do with the divorce, I met him a couple of years later), and I fell in love with him and all that, so I know I am bisexual, but it just doesn’t commonly manifest.
I suppose this was probably “always there” to some degree — after all I did have the crush when I was young (I think it was 7th or 8th grade). But, I also do not doubt that if I had been growing up today I would have acted on my curiosity about this aspect of me much more when I was younger. I did not, for various reasons (the strongest one being fear of getting sick — I am your age, and came of age during the AIDS crisis, which struck me as being a bad time to explore this in any great detail, especially since I was much more attracted to women anyway), but I think that if I had the same aspect and were growing up today, I likely would have acted on my curiosity about this rather small side of myself much, much more than I did, and I would have identified myself, to myself, as bisexual likely very early on due to that boyhood crush (I actually never considered myself bisexual until I had that relationship, because it was always so marginal compared to my attraction to women), and likely would have acted on that much more because it would have been a more firm identity. So I think you are quite correct that the environment in total has an impact on whether marginal cases, like me, end up acting out very much on these things, especially while younger and in formation. However, I think it is also correct that some of this is wired in — I was not molested, had a decent, not perfect, father, and so on. It just was always there, but never prominently there (for me). I think a different environment can take a marginal case like me, when young, and make him act out on these things in a way that he otherwise might not have done.
Of course, after my relationship with that guy ended, I repented of it when I returned to the Church and it’s clear to me that the sexual aspects of that kind of relationship are clearly sinful. But in terms of the origins of them, at least in my experience, it was a mix of nature and nurture — nature having them be there to begin with, and nurture (or anti-nurture) discouraging me from acting on them — which would be kind of opposite from where we are today. So I think the point is well-made, but there is also a nature component involved to some degree.
Note I think that this analysis doesn’t apply in the same way to women. Women, in my experience, are often (not always, but often) much more sexually fluid and “flexible” than men are, and more contextual, and this isn’t really related to the rise of LGBT activism in the 00s. Women have been acting out on sexual fluidity with other women since the start of the sexual revolution, really, and it appears to be a very different kind of thing than male homosexual/bisexual activity. Although I am obviously not a woman, I would guess that we are seeing marginally more women self-identify as bisexual (that part is new), but not a hugely different number of women actually participating in some same-sex activity — the latter isn’t new, and it isn’t like male homosexuality because women do appear to be more contextually flexible and fluid in their attractions (again, not all, but many). So while I can understand why both young men and women are more prone to use the bisexual label, I think the real change here is likely among the men, in terms of actual same-sex activity because it was always high-ish among women (at least relative to what it has been among men generally speaking, in *our* culture, rather than Greece/Rome, etc.).
UPDATE: Sorry, I should have indicated that this note is a follow-up to the “Born This Way? Really?” post about nature, nurture, and sexuality. If you haven’t read that one, this one won’t make a lot of sense.